This week, agent Carrie shares her experience at this year's Food & Wine Festival! If you've always wanted to go but haven't, this post is for you! ~Jenn
My best friend from high school, Amy, and I have been going to small wine festivals around PA for many years. As we celebrated our 30th birthdays at a fall wine festival in Yorktown in 2005, we decided we needed to have something greater in order to “look forward” to the big four-oh looming in front of us. We decided to go to Italy! We started planning, even buying books and tapes to learn Italian. We weighed out the pros and cons of going with a tour group vs. renting a convertible and winging it. Sometime last year it hit us- we have no money saved up for our grand tour of Italy. Over the last 10 years, life happened- children got older, houses were bought, jobs were lost and new ones started. That’s when my husband surprised us by saying he was sending us to Italy!...in Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival.
I started reading and learning about the F&W Festival. I quickly learned it was not like any of the festivals I’d been to locally -- meaning no free wine tastings. I was a little worried about how much money we were going to spend on tiny sips of wine. I started to feel overwhelmed with everything there is to know about the festival. There are parties, special events, food demonstrations by famous chefs, drink seminars, and so much more. I wanted it all!!
There were two small problems with wanting it all…money and time. The money is pretty self-explanatory. While the demos and seminars felt completely doable at $15pp for a 45-60 minute session, some of the parties and VIP experiences went for up to $500pp. Time was the bigger factor. We were going for a Girl’s Weekend and only 2 days in the parks. At first, I wanted to spend both days at the festival (Epcot is my favorite park), but then I found out that Amy hadn’t been to the parks since high school. So we HAD to go to the Magic Kingdom for a day.
We made the sad decision to skip the demos and our desired special event - the Italian Regional Food and Wine Pairing Luncheon - because it would take 3 hours up in the middle of our day. Instead, we planned to eat (and drink) our way around the World. The Global Marketplace consists of 30 booths that represent countries and refreshments that are placed around the World Showcase. It’s more than the regular World Showcase pavilions. Additional countries are represented as well: Poland, South Korea, Greece, and Patagonia are just a couple of examples. We pre-purchased the Sampler Package that included 8 entitlements for food or drink items in the Global Marketplace, a 20th Anniversary F&W pin, and VIP seating for the Eat to the Beat Concert.
After a beautiful morning riding rides in Future World, we headed to the Festival Center. It’s the hub of all the comings and goings for F&W. The demos and seminars happen here. There is a small area to buy festival merchandise (Dooney and Bourke anyone?!?!) This is also where you pick up any festival tickets and passes. While we were there, we got a F&W gift card and loaded it with the max money we were willing to spend at the festival. This was to ensure we didn’t go overboard. We also got our “Festival Passport”, which tells you all the Festival booth menus throughout the Global Marketplace. This passport makes a great souvenir because you can have it stamped at each country’s booth you visit.
The booths have a minimum of 2 main dishes, a dessert, and a beverage. We decided to order different dishes so we could try each other’s. In Scotland, I ordered the Haggis with Neeps (rutabaga) and Tatties (potatoes) and Amy had the Seared Sea Scallop with Spinach-Cheddar Gratin and Crispy Bacon. I thought the haggis was a bit dry, but since I’ve never had haggis, I have nothing to compare it to. That became the theme of the day…let’s try something we haven’t had before.
Then we went over to Hawaii. I was disappointed that they were sold out of the Tuna Poke with Seaweed Salad (at 12:15pm!), and they didn’t know when they would have more. So, we both had the Kalua Pork Sliders with sour Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayo. I could have had eaten these all day!
Off to Greece! You can easily find Greece in the Marketplace. Just follow the cheers of, "Opa!" When you pick up your drink, shout, "Opa!" and the cheer is quickly returned. This was one of the best interactions with Cast Members and people at all the booths we visited. I got a Greek Salad and Amy got the Vegan Moussaka with Vegan Sausage Crumbles. My salad was good, but small. The moussaka was also good, but very hot. It was a 90-degree day, and eating the super-hot food wasn’t going down well, so it didn’t get finished. I was very impressed with the vegan/vegetarian options all through the marketplace.
Next was the Champagne and Desserts booth. As a champagne lover, this was my favorite booth. I really wanted to splurge on a tasting on Dom Pérignon, but at over $20 for 2 ounces, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Darn budget! Instead, I went with the Moet & Chandon Nectar Impérial instead. Amy got the Moet & Chandon Impérial to go with her Chocolate Cherry Exposion dessert. I got the fancy Strawberry-Basil Champagne “Toast”. Everything was phenomenal! We immediately planned to go back at the end of the evening to get another glass of bubbly and dessert.
Next stop was the Refreshment Port. This booth is not a country, but it offers one of the best Disney treats around -- the Dole Whip with Coconut Rum!! We enjoyed this while looking out at the lagoon for a small break.
O Canada! Cheddar Cheese Soup and Moosehead Lager for me. Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter and Tawse Vineyard Cabernet Franc for Amy. The soup and filet are on the menu at Le Cellier, so I was a little disappointed that there was nothing new. But, I LOVE the Cheddar soup and the beer was light and made an excellent pairing. The wine was really good and had the right notes to compliment the fillet and earthy mushrooms. It was one of our favorite booths, and Amy now wishes to go to Le Cellier the next time we are in WDW.
After a shopping excursion and concert in England, we headed over to France. It was Champagne again for me in the Sparkling Pomegranate Kir. The Boeuf Bourguignon was so delicious and melted in my mouth. I was excited to see it on the menu, because I have always wanted to try it. Amy’s Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit bland, but the Crioissand aux Escargots was the simply amazing. It was both our favorite of the whole festival. We then went into the wine shop, Les Vins de France, where we purchased the red and white wine flights. This was our biggest disappointment of the day. Each glass was 2oz, and the flight was $18ea. Given the rich food we had, the wine seemed, well…boring. We still drank it all while sitting on the edge of the fountain enjoying the beautiful day.
Italy!!! We finally made it! We started with some shopping and pictures -- and then it poured! Have no fear; there is a w(h)ine shop. While we whined about the rain for a minute, we drank a glass of wine. Due to the rain, La Bottega Italiana was packed. We got one glass of Pinot Noir, then got back in line to get another glass of something we couldn’t pronounce (looks like those Italian tapes were a waste of money). We really enjoyed the wine here. By then, the rain had slowed down a bit so we headed to the festival booth. I tried the Raviolo alla Caprese (cheese ravioli) and Amy had the Filetto di Pollo Funghi al Marsala (chicken marsala). We were very disappointed in the Italian booth. It only had those 2 selections, and they were so dull. A great part of our time at the booth was talking with a nice couple from Cleveland -- I had to poke a little fun at his Browns shirt. Turns out “Mrs. Browns Fan” was actually a Steeler fan and grew up 2 blocks from where I currently live. It’s a small world after all!
With one more entitlement left and 10 minutes until our dinner reservation, we headed to Germany. They make the best Riesling, and they have four to choose from! We drank our wine while we headed over to Morocco to try Spice Road Table as our final stop in trying something new. We had a little wait, so we decided to get henna tattoos that mean “Sisters”. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and cast members here. Everyone was very helpful and friendly, and the food was amazing! We watched Illuminations from here and then headed back. We were entirely too full (and a bit too giddy) to stop at the Champagne booth again.
We ended up using all of the entitlements and all but a couple dollars on the gift cards. We were happy we didn’t go over budget. We were disappointed, though, that we didn’t make it to more of the Global Marketplace. As we started around the lagoon, our goal was not to miss anything. The only booth we purposely missed was Poland. As Pittsburghers, we didn’t think they could do a pierogi better than home -- I mean after all, we have pierogi races at Pirate games.
The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is an EVENT! We had so much fun the whole day. Even after an amazing day at the Magic Kingdom, we said we were going to come back and do 2 days at the festival. We’ll be back for our next milestone birthday celebration! Forty-One is a big deal…right?